Utne Reader Visionary: Marian Wright Edelman

We need to see all children as our own


| March-April 1996


This advocate and lobbyist for the most vulnerable Americans, founder and head of the Children’s Defense Fund, has declared that “it is immoral, unfair, and un-American that children are the poorest group in the richest nation on earth.” Her father was a Baptist minister and her mother raised 12 foster children while running the local old people’s home, so Edelman knows how to fuse faith and hard work—and she adds to the mix a brilliant command of the statistics of child neglect at all levels, from the family to the federal government. The CDF’s tireless work managed to convince the previously uninterested George Bush to put a child-welfare plank into his 1988 campaign, and today Edelman battles the Contract with America and its dismantling of the few safeguards that remain. Most of all, she speaks out against the widespread emotional numbness and complacency that consign millions of children to fear and misery.

“So much of America’s tragic and costly failure to care for all its children stems from our tendency to distinguish between our own children and other people’s children—as if justice were divisible. An African proverb reminds us that the rain falls on all the village huts and not just on some. So it is with violence and drugs and family and cultural decay today. All of us are affected by other people’s children, in the fears we harbor, the taxes we pay, the prisons we build, the welfare we love to hate, and in the nagging sense that we are not living up to our professed values of fair opportunity for all. I hope God will guide our feet as parents—and guide America’s feet—to reclaim our nation’s soul, and to give back to all of our children their sense of security and their ability to dream about and work toward a future that is hopeful—and attainable.”